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Deadline Day Thoughts: He’s Nacho left-back anymore, Malaga

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 1,035 Guns

To my immense surprise, Arsenal bought a player yesterday.

And not just any player. Several friends whose opinion I value highly sought me out to tell me just what a good player Arsenal have got. To be fair, his CV speaks for itself: Nacho Monreal is a Spanish international at the peak of his career.

Were it not for an injury to Kieran Gibbs on the eve of the transfer window, I doubt anyone would have arrived. Arsene Wenger revealed in his press conference today that Gibbs could miss as many as eight weeks with a thigh problem, and the prospect of relying on Andre Santos for that crucial period of the season was obviously not something the manage was prepared to face.

It shows you how swiftly a deal can be done when there’s a bit of urgency. I have spent most of this window frustrated with Arsene’s reluctance to enter the market. He seems to have fallen out of love with the entire idea of transfers; his recent quotes suggest he finds them dirty and a bit sordid. He views them as the ugly side of football – a side he would rather not engage with.

His relationship with the market seems to have been irrevocably soured by the sages over the likes of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. Meantime many of his own signings have floundered. In the last few years, transfers have been more hurtful than helpful.

He’s wrong to be dismissive of transfers. People rightly laugh at cheque-book managers, but good recruitment is a skill. There are deficiencies in Arsenal’s squad and a club with our resources ought to be able to correct them.

Monreal is a great start. I would have liked to have seen him supplemented by a defensive midfielder and a striker, but despite reported bids for Etienne Capoue and David Villa, it wasn’t to be.

We’ve been allowed to get away with it, though. I expected our rivals for fourth place, Spurs and Everton, to make significant additions in this window. Instead, Tottenham only added Lewis Holtby, failing to sign the striker or holding midfielder they plainly need. Everton, meanwhile, got an England U-19 International defender and missed out on ambitious moves for Alvaro Negredo and Leroy Fer.

I expected both clubs to consolidate their strong league position with a few speculative purchases. Instead, they’ve allowed us right back in to the game.

No-one predicted the signing of Monreal. However, as usual with Arsene Wenger, there were clues. A few days ago, he said of the January window:

“It’s a market for me that is a wrong transfer market because the only teams who sell players are teams in financial trouble.”

His sympathy obviously only extends so far, as he returned to the club from whom he stole Santi Cazorla, debt-ridden Malaga, to take another top talent.

It’s unusual for Arsene Wenger to sign a player who provides genuine competition for an established first-team player. His squads usually have quite a rigid hierarchy, with a clear first XI and then a set of reserves. Nacho Monreal breaks that mould: he has not come here to play second fiddle to Kieran Gibbs. Once Gibbs is fit again, there will be a genuine tussle between these those two.

That is how it should be. Competition is healthy, and important. Has the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seen a decline in the form of Theo Walcott? Quite the opposite.

For the first time in a long time, Arsene Wenger may have the option of rotating a member of his defence without significantly weakening the side.

For now, however, Monreal has the left-back slot to himself. He is cup-tied for the European clash with Bayern Munich, but I expect him to slot straight in for tomorrow’s Premier League tie with Stoke.

Let’s just hope the orcs don’t end up feasting on Nacho.

Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool: Another day, another destiny…

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 84 Guns

Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

It strikes me that there are three topics of discussion today.  The positives of last night’s game, the negatives, and the impending transfer deadline.  I’ve decided to hit those one at a time.

THE POSITIVES

The fight-back
Perhaps because this side are becoming so accustomed to falling behind, their heads never really dropped, even at 2-0 down.  We clawed our way back in to the game with one of those flurries of goals we seem to have been producing of late – this time it was two in two minutes.  Our goalscoring potential seems to be far greater right now, and that’s down in no small part to the improved form of…

Olivier Giroud
It’s now 5 goals in 3 games for the Frenchman.  His second half display included some of his most convincing moments in an Arsenal shirt.  His goal was the sort of header that is becoming his trademark, while his lay-off assist for Theo was absolutely gorgeous.

Theo Walcott
Even Theo’s biggest doubters must be coming round now.  His volley was a fantastic finish and gave him his 18th goal of the season.  To put that in perspective, that’s more goals than Freddie Ljungberg scored in any season of his fondly-remembered seasons with Arsenal.  It is a massive contribution.

THE NEGATIVES

The defending
Disastrous.  Woeful.  Apocalyptic.  Really, really bad.

Perhaps in years to come we’ll look back upon allowing Jordan Henderson to waltz through our back-line and score as the nadir of our defensive troubles. Jordan Henderson can barely play football, or indeed waltz, and yet we made him look like Lionel Messi.

Kieran Gibbs’ injury
Gibbs is now out for the dreaded “three weeks”.  With Arsenal players, three weeks tends to become three months very quickly indeed.

It’s a big blow because Gibbs has undoubtedly been one of our best players in recent weeks.  It’s also a blow because it means we have to turn to Andre Santos, who is badly lacking both form and fitness.  That said, I’m not comfortable with the level of abuse Santos is receiving.  He might not be very good, but it wasn’t Andre who bought the player and continues to pick him.  It was Arsene.  Which brings me nicely on to…

The substitutions
Arsene Wenger knew after he saw Will Buckley give him the runaround at Brighton that Santos was a liability.  So why bring him on?  He could easily have introduced Laurent Koscielny and shifted Thomas Vermaelen to centre-back, giving the defence a far more solid look.

My other gripe is with the fact that no other substitution was made.  Arsenal needed a win, really, and yet we had no player to whom Arsene felt we could turn to make the difference.  Which brings me nicely on to…

DEADLINE DAY

Even with the injury to Gibbs, I’m not expecting much activity at Arsenal.  It’s increasingly clear we had hoped to make a big push for David Villa, but Barcelona had no interest in selling.

If anyone does come in, it’ll be the hurried signing of a defender, most likely on loan.  However, I wouldn’t bet on it.  I’ve got plenty to say about our potential inactivity, but I’ll hold it for tomorrow.

Finally, for anyone who missed it yesterday, you can watch my take on today’s events below. Thanks for all the kind comments about the video; I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Video: One Day More – Deadline Day Remix ft. Arsene Wenger

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 1,004 Guns

Hello one and all.  Transfer Deadline Day is almost upon us.

As it’s traditionally a day of gloom for Arsenal, I’ve decided to put a lighter spin on things.  Some of you may recall the release of Stan a couple of years back.  Well, I’m nothing if not versatile: this time, rather than hip-hop, it’s musical theatre.

Arsene joins an ensemble of Premier League stars to sing a new version of ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables. If the embed below doesn’t work in your browser you can watch it here.

Hope you like it.

Brighton 2 – 3 Arsenal: That’s more like it, Olivier

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, FA Cup, Match Reports | 1,136 Guns

Brighton 2 – 3 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup after an entertaining tie with Brighton, who can consider themselves a little unfortunate not to have earned themselves the payday of a replay of the Emirates.

The back and forth nature of the game was demonstrated as early as the 15th minute. Wojciech Szczesny made a superb save at one end to prevent Brighton taking the lead, yet within seconds it was Arsenal who were in front. A swift counter-attack looked to have petered out when Lukas Podolski dribbled in to the midst of several defenders, but the German managed to lay the ball off to the waiting Giroud, who bent an expert finish in to the top corner from the edge of the box.

Parity was restored, unsurprisingly, from a set piece. Our dreadful zonal marking system allowed Ashley Barnes a free run at Wojciech Szczesny. As inevitably happens in such a situation, the man with the run up won the leap for the ball, and the net bulged. 1-1.

After half-time it was Giroud again who put us in front. Abou Diaby lifted a beautiful pass over the top of the centre-backs; Giroud latched on to it, held off his man, and used an outstretched left leg to thump the ball high in to the goal. It was a really fantastic finish, showcasing the best of Giroud: the movement, the determination and the power.

It only took Brighton five minutes to strike back, and it won’t surprise anyone to know it came from a cross. It also came down our left-flank, where Andre Santos was ambling around with a palpable lack of confidence, desire and positional sense.

The cavalry were called for, and with twenty minutes to go Arsene introduced Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. The latter proved to be the match-winner, meeting a goalkeeper’s punch with a volley that deflected before finding the corner of the net. Cruel on Brighton; crucial for Arsenal.

Walcott now has 17 goals for the season. It’s some record: he’s only made 17 starts.

The star of the show, however, remained Olivier Giroud. Four goals in his last two games have taken his tally to 13, but his performance in this game was about more than statistics. He worked tirelessly, and the finishes he produced were of real quality. It’s no exaggeration to say that Robin van Persie would have been proud of the second – and indeed the chipped through-ball from Abou Diaby made this goal particularly reminiscent of the Song / Van Persie connection of last season.

Let’s not kid ourselves: however well Giroud played, he’s no Van Persie. However, in the last few days he’s made a convincing case for a prolonged run of games at centre-forward. I still feel we would benefit from a signing in this area, but if someone does arrive they’ll have to oust a Frenchman in form.

One lingering criticism of Giroud is that his goals tend to come against weaker opposition. The upcoming Premier League tie with Liverpool would be a perfect time to put that to bed, and put our league campaign firmly back on track.

Arsenal 5 – 1 West Ham: Fat Sam, Grand-Slammed

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 182 Guns

Arsenal 5 – 1 West Ham
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was a match that Arsenal desperately needed to win. To do so in such style was a huge bonus.

Arsene Wenger will have beedn particularly please by the fact that his trio of summer signings – Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud – were at the heart of dismantling the Hammers. Podolski in particular had his most effective game in an Arsenal shirt, racking up a goal and three assists.

I’m a huge fan of the German winger. Although he can go quiet when deprived of service, he is ruthlessly efficient given the opportunity. His goal was a display of the incredible power he has in his left boot, while the three assists showed how effective he can be supplying ammunition from the flank. How Guy Demel must have wished he was still an Arsenal player as he saw Podolski tear at him time after time in that devastating period at the start of the second half.

I call him a winger quite deliberately. Podolski is the best finisher at the club, and there are understandable calls to play him as a central striker. Personally, I think he offers us more from the left. His work-rate is far better than commonly perceived, and his crossing is superb: he now has 10 assists to go with his 11 goals.

Podolski isn’t a flair player. He’s a machine. He finds space, and crosses or shoots. If he shoots, he doesn’t much around with side-foot or swerve: he hits the ball as clean and true as anyone I’ve seen in an Arsenal shirt.

It was he who got Arsenal back in to the game after going behind on, unsurprisingly, a set piece. Olivier Giroud headed a corner away, but Jack Collison was unmarked on the edge of the area and able to volley back in. Crucially, Podolski’s wonder-strike had us level before half-time, and when we came out for the second period we seemed hell-bent on putting West Ham to the sword.

First Arsenal produced a set piece routine of their own, as Olivier Giroud volleyed home from a corner after some clever screening work by Mertesacker. Then Podolski played what is becoming a trade-mark one two with Giroud before squaring to Santi Cazorla to back-heel home. The Spaniard celebrated with such humility that from the crowd I initially thought it had been an own goal. I shouldn’t have doubted him, as the replays confirmed an exquisite flick.

A minute later Podolski was in again, this time playing a ball across the penalty area which Theo Walcott side-footed home with real assuredness. He is now on 16 goals for the season, and it looks increasingly likely that this will be the season when he breaks the 20-goal mark for the first time.

The final goal was another beauty: Jack Wilshere split the defence with a beautiful pass to Podolski, and Olivier Giroud got in front of his man to meet the German’s cross and turn the ball home with the inside of his heel. The contest was over, and the game understandably petered out.

Arsenal need the three points for their league position. What’s more, they needed the injection of confidence the scoreline provides. The six month adaptation period for Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla is now over, and Arsenal need them to produce performances like this on a consistent basis if we’re to claw back Tottenham’s lead.

It wasn’t a perfect evening. The injury to young Dan Potts put a dampener on proceedings, while the introduction of Andre Santos to the front three in place of a tiring Podolski was a startling reminder of the shallowness of our squad.

However, we should grasp a rare opportunity to be positive. Our defence recovered from a shaky start to look relatively secure, Aaron Ramsey excelled in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role, and our attacking game was far more cohesive and clinical than in recent weeks.

Plus, we made Sam Allardyce miserable. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Further reading: Player Ratings for Bleacher Report

Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal
: Another early implosion scuppers Gunners

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1,021 Guns

Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This Arsenal side just do not seem to learn their lessons. After last weekend’s defeat by Manchester City, Arsene Wenger said:

“Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it. We didn’t start with enough confidence or enough authority.”

I’m afraid it’s the same old story all over again.

There’s a temptation to focus on our impressive second half display. However, I’m afraid that my glass, much like Arsenal’s recent performances, is only half-full. All too often we only show up for part of a game. By the time we start putting our foot in, showing a bit of desire, and doing the basics the game is often already gone.

So it was at Stamford Bridge. Yes, refereeing decisions went against us – Coquelin was fouled in the build-up to Mata’s opener, and Ramires produced a clever dive to dupe the referee in to awarding the penalty – but ‘play to the whistle’ is something drilled in to kids from when they first start playing. Just as against City, Arsenal switched off, with Bacary Sagna particularly guilty of going AWOL at the key moments.

Whilst Martin Atkinson was guilty of some poor decisions, I draw the line at blaming him for the result. Arsenal’s dreadful defending put them in a mess of their own making.  It was an insipid first-half display.

Whatever Arsene Wenger said at half-time clearly had some impact, as Arsenal were immediately more competitive after the break. Santi Cazorla, who had been anonymous until that point, was suddenly able to influence the game, combining with Jack Wilshere to form Arsenal’s creative hub.

It was Cazorla who created our 58th minute goal, sliding an outstanding pass through to Theo Walcott, who finished well for his 15th goal of the season.

Arsenal went on to make most of the running, with Kieran Gibbs an irrepressible outlet on the left-hand side. Elsewhere, Walcott’s goal was the catalyst for threatening display of direct running, giving Ashley Cole a torrid time.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Arsenal’s fight-back may have transformed the dynamic of the game, but it wasn’t enough to reverse the scoreline. Our half of dominance produced only one clear-cut chance, which Walcott confidently dispatched. Chelsea, meanwhile, seemed to create chances at will, particularly in the first 45. Fortunately for us they had selected Fernando Torres, thus handicapping their goalscoring potential. Only a superb Thomas Vermaelen clearance prevented Demba Ba from sealing it late on.

Arsenal struggled to capitalise on their renewed impetus, and weren’t helped by a chronic lack of options from the bench. The illness of Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain meant that when Arsene Wenger sent out three supposed game-changers to warm up, he called on Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos. You would struggle to find a trio who inspire less confidence.

Talking of failing to inspire confidence, I’m afraid I have to state my concerns over Olivier Giroud. Before going 2-0 down, Arsenal really ought to have gone 1-0 up: a good move ended with Walcott playing in Giroud, who screwed a very presentable one-on-one wide.

Unfortunately for Giroud, it’s hardly his first costly miss in an Arsenal shirt. I like him very much: he plays with courage and adds a much needed-focal point to the side. However, at the moment, he is not good enough to start regularly for a club expecting to qualify for the Champions League.

I’m not saying he’s not a good player. I’m not saying he won’t adapt and improve and become good enough for a top four side. At the moment, however, he’s not.

It’s not Giroud’s fault that he is the only pure centre-forward in the squad. The likes of Robin van Persie needed similar adaptation periods, but were afforded them by the presence of established figures like Henry and Bergkamp higher up the pecking order. Arsenal have asked Giroud to hit the ground running, and he’s barely broken out of a jog.

Some will say it’s more of a priority that we sort out the defensive side of our game. I’m afraid to say, I’ve pretty much given up on that. The arrival of experienced internationals like Per Mertesacker has failed to shore up the defence, as has the appointment of Steve Bould on the coaching side. There is no evidence to suggest an Arsene Wenger team will ever undergo a dramatic defensive improvement. With that in mind, and added to my belief that the manager isn’t going anywhere until 2014 at the earliest, our only option is to outscore the opposition. To do that, we need better forwards.

Therein lies the major difference between this season and last, and the reason I believe we need a top striker to secure fourth place. Last season, we were even shakier at the back then this time round, but we had a top class finisher to bail us out. This season, we don’t, and the stats back it up. In 2012/13, Van Persie has converted one in four of his chances this season (25%). Giroud’s record is closer to one in ten (13%).

We could do with a midfielder too. Abou Diaby played his third game in a week after a three month absence, and looked well off the pace. It’s hardly his fault – he shouldn’t have to be thrown back in to the fray after such a long spell on the sidelines.

It’s clear Arsene considers his collection of attributes invaluable. Speaking before the game, the manager said:

“Abou Diaby, with the way we have structured the team, he is an important piece of the puzzle because he adds qualities that we need in the middle of the park.”

You know what? I agree. Diaby offers us something that no other player in the squad does. However, he is also seemingly guaranteed to miss several chunks of the season through injury. That means that Arsene is effectively knowingly allowing for us to be without “qualities that we need” for prolonged periods.

It’s particularly frustrating when you see players capable of offering the same combination of power, acceleration and skill that Diaby promises available at reasonable fees. Moussa Dembele was allowed to join Tottenham unchallenged for around £15m. Momo Diame has a release clause of just £3.5m. And yet we continue to rely on a player who is provenly unreliable.

Our month of inactivity in the transfer market has thus far produced just one league point from the nine available. This weekend, Arsenal fans found themselves in the painful  position of having to be grateful for a Robin van Persie goal against Spurs. Without that, the league table could have looked even more bleak.

I don’t subscribe to the belief that failing to make the top four could ever be a ‘good thing’. We need to be there, and I still believe we can. However, a couple of additions could make all the difference. The one upside to our poor run is that it comes at a time when it’s possible to do something about it.

I know it’s cold outside, Arsene, but it’s time to open the window.

Chelsea Preview: Dawn of the Theo-cracy

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Previews, Premier League | 483 Guns

The saga is over and Theo Walcott has signed a new contract with Arsenal Football Club.

It’s undoubtedly good news for Arsenal.  It stems the flow of talent away from the club, and shows a renewed willingness to flex our financial muscle.

It’s arguably even better news for Theo.  Having steadfastly refused to agree to the club’s initial offer of £75k p/week, he’ll now find himself picking up far more than that.  Depending on which red top you read, the weekly salary wages from between £90k to a mammoth £113k.  Either way, it seems he has escaped the binds of Arsene’s “socialist” pay structure, simultaneously superseding Lukas Podolski as the club’s highest paid player.

I never imagined that Theo Walcott would be the man for whom Arsenal would break their strict wage hierarchy.  Granted, he’s having a statistically outstanding season, but he remains far from perfect.  So many more talented players have sought the kind of sums Walcott was demanding, only to find themselves being shown the door to Barcelona or Manchester.

The truth is that Walcott is the lucky beneficiary of a perfect storm of circumstance.  Arsenal could not afford the PR disaster of losing another one of their perceived stars.  The club is also under more pressure than ever to show ambition in their expenditure.  Every time Walcott produced on the pitch, the likelihood of Arsenal caving to his demands increased significantly.

I’m still a little surprised he’s signed.  It’s rare that a player gets within six months of a Bosman move and is able to resist, and I went on record as saying that I didn’t think Arsenal and Theo would ever come to an agreement.  But Walcott knows that Arsenal is a set-up that suits him, and it’s not clear which (if any) elite clubs would be able to offer him the playing time he gets at the Emirates.

He enjoys playing with the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jack Wilshere.  At the risk of sounding jingoistic, I think the British core the club are building is important.  We are building a group of young players who seem eager to stick together and achieve something.  Keeping Walcott benefits the collective.

It’s now very much a case of “over to you, Theo”.  He’s got the money he wanted; now he has to justify it.  If he doesn’t, at least Arsenal can look to recoup a fee, rather than losing a valuable asset for nothing.

It’s “over to you, Arsene” too.  Having tied up the deal that was his priority for January, he now has a couple of weeks remaining to make an impact in the transfer market.  Talk of someone like Cavani is wildly unrealistic, although I still think it’s imperative that Arsenal bring in a striker.  If we select our first choice front three of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott, we would not have a single forward on the bench.  For a club of our size, that is unforgivable.

In a watershed week for Arsenal, I hope tomorrow’s game with Chelsea is a similarly significant landmark in our season.  It proved so last season, with a 5-3 victory restoring faith in a team that had spent the early months of the season on the ropes.  This fixture at Stamford Bridge could also be pivotal: if we could win there, then against West Ham in midweek, we’d find ourselves just two points behind a Chelsea side who had threatened to pull out of sight.  With Spurs facing of against United, this could be a critical week in the race for the Champions League.

-

If you fancy a flutter on tomorrow’s game, check out my betting preview for Unibet, complete with predicted line-ups and top tips.  You can get 8.5 on Theo to celebrate his new contract with the first goal…

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Jack Wilshere, Perfect 10

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, FA Cup, Match Reports | 704 Guns

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A few games in to Jack Wilshere’s comeback, I scoffed at those who had suggested it would take him a little time to get back to his best. His first few all-action displays suggested to me that Wilshere had hit the ground running, and was immediately playing at something close to full capacity.

How wrong I was; how right they were. Jack was merely finding his feet. In the last two matches, Wilshere’s development has accelerated dramatically.

This isn’t the Wilshere we remember. This one’s better.

This Jack Wilshere is armoured with months of gym work and a fierce desire to make up for lost time. He is physically and mentally stronger for the ordeal he has suffered, and it shows. Against City his courage and resilience saw him emerge as the heartbeat of this Arsenal side. Against Swansea, he took on a different kind of responsibility.

Ever since his return, Jack has worn the hallowed number 10 on his back. This, however, was the first time since his injury we’ve seen him play as a number 10. The position fits him as well as the shirt. Freed of defensive responsibility, he was a constant menace to the Swansea defence, and it was no surprise when his twenty-yard strike proved the difference.

I have no doubt that Wilshere will follow Cesc Fabregas in moving forward from a deeper role to play behind the striker. It may not be immediate, but it will be soon. In his mid-teens, Jack made waves in youth football as a scorer and creator of goals from midfield. The tools he has learnt playing deep will make him a better all-round player, but ultimately his future lines in the attacking third.

Deploying Jack there also seems to give Arsenal better balance. Behind him, the platform of Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin looked relatively secure, and moving Santi Cazorla in to the front three did little to diminish the Spaniard’s influence, and added fluency and creativity to our forward play. Coquelin did particularly well on the night – I was heartened to see the team’s least experienced player cajoling his team-mates back in to position as we hold on to our 1-0 lead.

This was a well deserved victory, which would have been much more comfortable but for some poor finishing from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Despite the likelihood of the former signing a new deal, and my growing affection for the latter, my one hope for this transfer window is that we bring in a goalscorer. With each passing day, however, that hope diminishes.

This is no time for negativity, though. Arsenal have maneuvered past a difficult draw with Swansea and are still in the cup. What’s more, I saw enough tonight at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge to think that we might be able to give an imploding Chelsea side a very good game on Sunday.

If we do, you can bet that Jack Wilshere will be at the heart of it. Thomas Vermaelen is Arsenal’s captain in name alone. That armband, just like that number 10 role, is Jack’s destiny.

My bet is on him to fulfill the role permanently one day. Are you interested in doing some betting on an upcoming Premier League fixture? Make sure you head over to www.bwin.com and check out their fantastic odds!

Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City: Do your job, Arsene

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 682 Guns

Laurent Koscielny wrestles Edin Dzeko to the ground

Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

All the talk before this game was of the exorbitant prices fans were asked to pay to watch the match.  It felt particularly expensive for Arsenal fans when Laurent Koscielny’s red card effectively ended the contest after 10 minutes.

In fairness, it might not have been much of a game regardless.  In his post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger admitted:

“Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it.”

It’s a relief to see him be honest and avoid laying all the blame at the door of referee Mike Dean, who I believe got most of the major decisions right.  From kick-off City were more purposeful, more organised, and more commanding.  They looked like the home team.  What happened in the tenth minute simply compounded problems that were already alarmingly evident.

I think Laurent Koscielny is probably Arsenal’s best all-round defender, and yet I wouldn’t have him in the first-team.  It’s a paradoxical statement about a bewildering player.  For all his excellence, his time in English football has been littered with some major errors, and his decision to bear-hug Edin Dzeko to the ground inside the penalty box was inexplicable and yet entirely in character.

Was it a foul?  Certainly.  Did it deny a goalscoring opportunity?  Yes.  Although Tevez ultimately reached the ball, it was only Koscielny’s intervention that prevented Dzeko getting there.  If pulling someone’s shirt as the last man forty yards from goal warrants a red card, then rugby tackling someone to the ground six yards out should definitely do the same.

Some fans have suggested that Dean’s decision “ruined the game”.  I didn’t hear them making the same point when Emmanuel Adebayor was dismissed in the 17th minute of the North London Derby.  We know Dean enjoys the limelight and will gleefully make a big call given the opportunity, but it took Koscielny to be stupid enough to give him that chance.  For what it’s worth, I thought Dean did a decent job with a difficult match, and made the correct call with Vincent Kompany’s late dismissal too.

Back to the penalty.  I didn’t fancy Dzeko to score the spot-kick at all, and indeed Wojciech Szczesny made the first of several important saves to deny the Bosnian.  Without another impressive performance from the Pole, the score could have become humiliating.

The fact we survived the penalty with our clean sheet intact made the way we gave away the two goals all the more infuriating.  First the team failed to switch on as City took a quick free-kick and released James Milner to thump brilliantly past Szczesny; then Kieran Gibbs was caught in possession and duly punished as Zabaleta crossed for Dzeko to tap in via another Szczesny save.

City were in complete control of the game, and though the second half introduction of Olivier Giroud gave them the occasional scare, they never looked less than comfortable.  The fact they managed nine shots on target as compared with Arsenal’s four tells you that they looked more like adding to their tally than conceding.

I was relieved that the scoreline wasn’t more embarrassing.  Arsenal have difficult fixtures to come in this month, and a home humiliation would have been hugely unhelpful.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger was unusually unguarded about the failings in his team:

“We need to be a bit more confident in this kind of game. We want to do so well that we are a bit up tight. I’m not angry, it’s frustration that you do not see from the start what this team is capable of.”

We are not, he makes clear, seeing the best of the players we have.  Questions must therefore be asked of the man being tasked with coaching, organising and motivating them: Arsene himself.

I’d also query today’s team selection.  The manager seems to harbour a desire to reunite Koscielny and Vermaelen for the big games.  He tried it against Chelsea back in September, and we combusted.  Today produced a similar result.

Theo Walcott got the nod in the central striker’s role, and although it was something of a thankless task today, was entirely unconvincing.  Amid rumours of an imminent new deal, a cynic might suggest his performance was that of a man who has now got the golden handshake he’s been after.

I was more immediately concerned by his failure to provide any kind of outlet for our embattled midfield.  He never came and showed for the ball in to feet, and was dominated by Kompany and Nastasic throughout.  Whenever we created space wide, we neglected to cross as Walcott doesn’t have the capacity to provide any kind of aerial threat.

It’s worth noting that of Walcott’s 14 goals this season, only five have come while playing through the middle.  While I’m not convinced that Olivier Giroud is good enough for a side with top four ‘ambitions’, he remains the best centre-forward we have, and should be starting games.

The injury to Mikel Arteta is obviously a blow, but throwing the very rusty Abou Diaby back in after three months out was a strange decision.  Leaving him on at the expense of Oxlade-Chamberlain after the sending off was arguably stranger.  A red card to a centre-back robs you of one substitution; leaving a barely fit Diaby on effectively robs you of another.

Perhaps Arsene wasn’t fussed, as he knew that Olivier Giroud was the only attacker available on the bench.  The unexplained omission of Arshavin and Rosicky meant that of the six outfield substitutes available, three were defenders and one a defensive midfielder.  The absence of player capable of coming on and changing the game was palpable, which makes Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to enter the transfer market all the more infuriating.

Asked if Arteta’s injury would prompt him to move to reinforce the squad, he replied:

“To find players of a calibre of Arteta, available in January, I wish you good luck.”

Cry me a river, Arsene.  You had the summer, but you ‘kept your powder dry’.  Since then you’ve had four months to identify players to improve the squad.  You’ve now had a full two weeks in which you could have actually bought someone; a period in which we’ve failed to qualify in the cup and dropped five league points.  Stop moaning and do your job.

The real positive for Arsenal was the performance of Jack Wilshere.  Faced with adversity, he was fearless, bold, and brave.  City did their best to kick him out of the game, and he responded time after time with driving runs that represented our only real hope of getting back in to the game.

In a match in which the talented but timid Cazorla was anonymous, Wilshere emerged as our true playmaker.  Our true leader.  The class and courage he displayed was reminiscent of one Cesc Fabregas – a player who ultimately left Arsenal because the club failed to build a side befitting of such a unique talent.

If Arsenal and Arsene continue to neglect their responsibility to improve the squad, Jack will go the way of Cesc.  And Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy and Song.  Jack’s enthusiasm and love for the club was entirely evident against City, but no player is immune from disillusionment.  Years of stagnation and decline will wear that affinity thin.  We’ve seen it before.  Let’s not let history repeat itself.

Transfer Update: Arsene’s Inertia Could Cost Arsenal Dear

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 645 Guns

I don’t know why this blog is called a Transfer Update.  There are no transfers to update you on, really.  I’m writing it in the immediate aftermath of reading some truly baffling quotes from Arsene Wenger.

I’ve studied Arsene for more than ten years.  In the last few seasons, I’ve watched every one of his press conferences.  I have grown accustomed to his verbal ticks and repetitious rhetoric.  In recent months, amidst all the familiar traits – the wit, the charm, the searing analytical brain – I have seen a new trait creepy ominously in: doubt.

It used to be that when Arsene spoke about transfers in the press, you could write it off as bluff.  Bluff, however, is grounded in logic. Arsene’s recent words are those of a man who can’t quite make up his mind.

This very morning, he said:

“In England you are always under pressure to buy. We are still working in the transfer market but we only want exceptional players … Our squad is quite complete already.”

This comes just over a week after he told the media:

“I will be active, yes. Will I be concrete? I hope so. We are looking everywhere.”

The conviction is gone.  It’s a trend that’s not unfamiliar to those who’ve had to deal with Arsene Wenger in recent months.  Ask any agent who has spoken to him about a potential signing: his reaction is never more than lukewarm, never without caveats.  Despite the fact his Arsenal squad continues to to convince, the man solely responsible for recruitment is not sufficiently convinced by anyone outside it.

Meanwhile, through our gloomy transfer window, we watch good players come and go.  We know Arsene admired Demba Ba, but he decided not to move for him based on a fairly spurious belief that he was too similar to the significantly less predatory Olivier Giroud.  Arsenal scouts have watched Wilfried Zaha for months, but it seems the player will be allowed to join Manchester United uncontested.

The consequence for Arsenal is crippling inactivity.  Arsene sets a bar of “super super quality”, and sets about looking for a player to ease his own apprehensions about entering the market.  Such a player, of course, does not exist.  Arsenal procede to do nothing.  Perhaps, in a final scramble and with need for sheer numbers, they sign a player out of panic who is not good enough.  They then spend the next few transfer windows struggling to offload this player from their wage bill, hampering their financial potential, and so the cycle continues.

If you know who you want, January is not a complicated time to do a deal: Liverpool went and signed up Daniel Sturridge before the window was even open.  The club are not prohibited from looking for potential signings in the months between August and December.  If they haven’t found anyone of the requisite “quality” by now, I have no faith that they will do so in the coming few weeks.

Forgive me if this sounds a little over the top.  I am merely struggling to understand how an unconvincing draw with Swansea has done so much to erase Arsene’s belief that this team needs reinforcement.  Our rivals will doubtless continue to improve around us, so we ought to push on and do the same.  If we don’t, there is a very real risk that we will fail to achieve our basic goal for the season: Champions League qualification.

If our squad is “complete”, then why are Arsenal sixth?